February 2009

Abreu cracks double, first hit as an Angel

Having gone hitless with a walk in his first two games in red, Bobby Abreu didn’t waste any time banging his first hit in an Angels uniform on Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Facing Rockies southpaw Greg Smith, part of  the deal that made Matt Holliday a member of the Athletics, Abreu smoked a line drive over the head of right fielder Matt Murton for a double in the bottom of the first inning. Hainley Statia, who’d walked leading off, scored on Freddy Sandoval’s sacrifice fly.

In the top of the second, Abreu had his first misadventure in left field. A fly ball by Clint Barmes got up in the sun and Abreu couldn’t find it, letting it fall for a triple. But Fernando Rodriguez, replacing Sean O’Sullivan after a two-run Colorado first, struck out two hitters to escape without yielding a run.

Abreu made it two doubles in two innings when he hit a sinking liner in front of Murton that kicked away from him far enough to allow Abreu — always an aggressive baserunner — to scoot into second. 

A double as his first Angels hit was fitting for Abreu, who has had 35 or more doubles every season since 1999, his second full season in the Majors with the Phillies.

Following a walk to Mike Napoli, Sean Rodriguez showed off his pop with a double off the wall in left, driving home Abreu and tying the game at 2.

Rodriguez, a superb athlete with big-time power to right center, has been working out at second and short exclusively so far this spring. But he is a natural center fielder who would love to expand his versatility by getting some time in the outfield. A catcher as a kid, he also feels he  could fill in behind the plate in an emergency.

Weaver throws off mound for first time

Jered Weaver, taking it more slowly this spring than last year when he came out of the chute blazing, threw off a mound for the first time and was feeling good afterward.

“I threw 25 fastballs,” he said, “and everything felt good.”

Weaver has made 200 innings his goal this season after falling short by 23 1/3 innings last year. He has had periodic shoulder issues, so the slower pace this spring was precautionary more than anything.

“I want to be ready when it counts,” he said. “I’m not interested in being the Cactus League pitcher of the year.”   

Napoli passes shoulder test

Mike Napoli was beaming on Friday morning even before he saw the lineup card for the game against the Rockies featuring his name in the No. 4 slot as the Angels’ designated hitter.

Daybreak brought good news. Napoli woke feeling no pain in his right shoulder after testing it for the first time on Thursday since undergoing arthroscopic surgery in late October, cleaning up a little mess that had cost him a month of the second half.

“I threw 70, 75 feet, around 20, 25 times,” Napoli said. “It went well, and I’m not even sore today. I was a little worried how I’d feel when I got up, but it was fine, no pain.

“The last time I threw was the last game last season, so it’s been a while. I feel strong.”

Even if he’s not ready to cut loose with enough velocity to catch by the season opener on April 6, Napoli wants to make the 25-man roster as a DH until he’s ready to go behind the plate.

Manager Mike Scioscia has maintained that roster flexibility would go into that decision, which would force the club to carry a third catcher — Bobby Wilson or Ryan Budde — to back up Jeff Mathis. 

Fuentes offers a preview

It was a glimpse of things to come for Angels fans: Brian Fuentes, facing lefty-swinging Eric Chavez with two on and one out, and down goes Chavez swinging. When another southpaw swinger, Jack Cust, flied to left, Fuentes was out of a jam he’d created for himself with a pair of one-out singles.

Fuentes is the closer, but we can expect to see him in eighth-inning situations occasionally such as this along the way: two on, tough lefty bats coming up. He sees himself as a closer who doesn’t mind coming in for an out now and then in the eighth — as long as he gets to finish. Fuentes gives Mike Scioscia a feared southpaw specialist. As good as Darren Oliver has been, that’s not who he is. Oliver is just as effective against right-handed hitters as lefties, and he’s a guy you want in games for at least an inning.

The Angels’ bullpen will have a different look this season with what Fuentes provides. Scioscia won’t hesitate to let Scot Shields or Jose Arredondo close games if necessary on occasion –the former domain of K-Rod and K-Rod only.   

Walden shows right stuff

Jordan Walden, looking very much like a young John Lackey, delivered two impressive innings in his Cactus League debut. The 6-foot-5 flamethrower from Texas ended both innings with strikeouts, leaving runners stranded, and finished with three K’s.

The Athletics collected a pair of hits — Eric Chavez’s single through the middle in the first, Chris Carter’s opposite-field double leading off the second — but Walden buckled down when he needed outs. He caught dangerous Jack Cust looking at a third strike to end the first and Rob Bowen went down swinging to finish the second.

With a pitcher as young as Walden, who turned 21 in November, his response to adversity often determines how swiftly he advances through the system. Walden’s stuff is premium: 95-96 mph heat that he holds into the sixth and seventh innings, complemented by developing off-speed stuff. With one out and Carter on third, Walden got Cliff Pennington to roll over on a grounder to Kendry Morales at first, and he shot down Carter at the plate. That was a location pitch, not a bullet, that got Walden out of trouble — a very good sign in his development.

Walden worked at two Class A levels last season, striking  out 141 hitters in 156 1/3 innings at Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga. This guy could be on the fast track to Anaheim if he continues his development this season.     

Return of the mailbag . . . as inbox

Yes, by popular demand, the ol’ mailbag is coming back under a new format, now identified as Inbox to bring it more in step with the times. But it basically will be the same old song: you hurling questions, your faithful correspondent trying to respond as honestly as the law allows.

For now, if you have something you’d like to throw my way — and you know you do — just pass it along here, making sure to let me know where you live along with your first name and last name initial. We’ll re-open a season-long dialogue. This will be more spontaneous than in the past, with no assigned publishing days. We’ll be winging it, which should be fun.

In the immortal words of the great Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on.

 

 

Shields, Arredondo impressive

Two essential components in the back end of the Angels’ bullpen appear to be in mid-season form.

Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo make quick work of the White Sox on Wednesday after starter Matt Palmer was touched up for two runs on five hits in two innings.

Shields struck out Jim Thome during a 1-2-3 third inning, and Arredondo fanned Ben Broussard and Chris Getz in the fourth, getting a fine play in the hole by shortstop Hainley Statia to give him a perfect inning.

Brian Fuentes was given permission to return home to Merced. He will make his Angels debut when he returns. Fuentes and Shields are on Team USA’s World Baseball Classic roster, while Arredondo will represent the Dominican Republic.

Rich Thompson, headed to the Classic to pitch for Australia, continued the run of outs by Angels relievers when he set down the White Sox in order in the fifth.  

Napoli, Wood show muscle

Hitting fourth and fifth in the lineup in the Cactus League  opener, Mike Napoli and Brandon Wood didn’t waste any time flexing their muscles for the Angels.

After getting a hit taken away in the second inning by third baseman Josh Fields, Napoli — picking up where he left off with his torrid 2008 finish — launched a two-run double to left center in the third inning, giving the Angels a 3-2 lead over the White Sox.

Wood, who had backed Jermaine Dye to the wall in right in his first at-bat, had center fielder Jerry Owens climbing the wall in center to flag down his drive to end the inning against Octovio Dotel. Two at-bats, and Wood had launched about 750 feet worth of outs.

“I’m feeling more comfortable with my hands now,” Wood was saying before the game. “It took a while to get a feel for it, but it feels natural now. I think I’m getting to the ball a little quicker.”

Wood altered his stance last season, dropping his hands from a cocked position to give him a more direct path to the ball. He had his best month as an Angel in September, and he could be ready to take flight as a legitimate power presence.       

Abreu gets quick test in left

Wouldn’t you know it? The very first inning of his very first Cactus League game in left field, trying to get comfortable with the newness of it all, Bobby Abreu fields two fly balls.

Following two singles, White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin lifted a towering fly ball against Matt Palmer that drifted to his left as Abreu came charging in. He made the catch, but it wasn’t an easy chance. The next hitter, Jim Thome, lifted another high fly that got in the path of the sun. Shielding his eyes with his glove, Abreu handled that one as well.

In his first Angels at-bat, Abreu sprayed a ball into the left corner, foul, before flying to center. In his second at-bat, against Octovio Dotel in the third, Abreu demonstrated his discipline, taking  the count to 3-0 before walking on a 3-1 pitch after a fly-ball RBI double to left by Hainley Statia.

Abreu hopes to play every day until he departs after Sunday’s game, giving him a chance to get acquainted with left field. Almost exclusively a right fielder in his 13-year Major League career, he has played left only 16 times — and not since 1997.

     

 

Too many good players

It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but you have to wonder what it’s like to be Matt Brown, looking around the Angels’ clubhouse, wondering where you fit.

You were a star on the bronze medal-winning Team USA outfit in the Beijing Games last summer. You crushed the ball at Triple-A Salt Lake —  again. You added some versatility, learning how to play first base. No less an authority than Reggie Smith, Team USA’s hitting coach, touted you as a Major League talent — and Reggie is not a man to throw praise around randomly.

You know you can play, and yet you wonder where, and how it can happen. Chone Figgins is at third, your natural position, and behind him is Brandon Wood. One of Wood’s teammates coming up through the farm system with him assured me that this guy “will just blow up if he ever gets a chance to play every day.” So, if you’re Matt Brown, 26 and waiting for your time, you wonder if it will ever come.

Kendry Morales has been given first base, and the guy can rake. Behind him is Robb Quinlan, who has a .285 career average in the Majors and must also wonder where he’ll fit in as a role player yet again. Matt Brown: third at third, third at first.

There are others who work out every day, preparing  for a long season, and leave camp every afternoon wondering what’s in store. Reggie Willits, for example. He was fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, a major contributor to the Angels’ success, and he’s sixth in line for a outfield job. Depth is a great thing if you’re a manager or a GM, but if you’re an athlete burning to play at the highest level, convinced you can make good things happen, and have names on top of yours on the depth chart . . . you sit and wait. And wonder.

Too many good players. A nice problem for Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins, but not such a great thing if you’re Matt Brown, Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Freddy Sandoval, Terry Evans and all the others on the outside looking in.

                 

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